On the last night of the Utah legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill that will fund a $53 million coal facility at a port in Oakland, California.
“It’s a sandbagging of the process, a sandbagging of the public,” said David Irvine, a private attorney who is also a board member of Alliance for a Better Utah.
Irvine said the bill was introduced very late in the session, had very little public discussion before the Senate voted to approve it and that concerns him. He believes the bill allowed questionable moves to make way for the money to flow toward the project. He equates it to “money laundering.”
Senate Bill 246 was sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams of Layton. He said using taxpayer money to fund the out-of-state development, will ensure struggling Utah coal companies will have a way to export coal overseas to places like Asia.
The plan is to use railways to ship the coal from Utah to California. The sales generated by the exports will be enough to repay the $53 million loan and create new jobs in Utah mining towns that are struggling with high unemployment.
“If this helps the economy and the rest of the world, it’s a good thing,” he said.
Irvine is not so sure. He said if private investors aren’t putting money into the coal port, why is Utah helping a private developer finance the project? He said coal is no longer a good investment. He said nobody in Utah has done an analysis of the viability of the project and the expected profits.
California State senator Loni Hancock agrees with Irvine. She is fighting the project in California and feels the whole project is a “shell game” designed to use public funds to benefit private development. She too feels coal is no longer a viable business.
In addition to concerns about the viability of Utah’s plan for the coal port, Irvine has concerns that the Community Impact Board in Utah (CIB) rushed the approval of the $53 million dollar loan for the port facility. The CIB issues funds to communities impacted by mining. Usually, the CIB money goes directly to the communities impacted by the mining activities. In this case, he said the CIB’s approval of the port project is very unusual in that the monies are not directly benefitting a community or people in Utah.
Plus, he said it seems the CIB approved the loan, without much scrutiny.
“How many banks would lend you or me 53 million dollars without ever having filed an application?,” he said.
Adams said the money from the CIB was loaned to the port project and he expects coal profits will easily repay the loan.
Governor Gary Herbert said he liked the plan and said he would sign the legislation.
Read KUTV article here.